Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Stealing Mona Lisa"

Carson Morton was born in London, England and moved with his family to the United States when he was eleven. He worked as a professional musician for many years, making an album for United Artists Records with his group Razmataz, and playing with the likes of John Sebastian, Billy Preston, and many others. He is a screenwriter and published playwright, and has worked in television as a consultant and composer.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Stealing Mona Lisa, his first novel, and reported the following:
What an interesting idea. On page 69 of Stealing Mona Lisa, the mysterious Marquis de Valfierno, the mastermind behind the theft of the world’s most famous painting, remembers back to how he met Émile, his young protégé. Émile will soon play a vital part in the scheme to steal the painting and sell six copies to six unsuspecting American Robber Barons. But Valfierno first encountered Émile when he was a small boy, a street urchin, in a small alleyway in Paris. Valfierno has been set upon by street thugs, so called Apaches, intent on beating him to death:
As Valfierno lay on the rough cobblestones trying to protect himself from the flying boots and clubs, he had all but given up any hope of survival when the punishment suddenly stopped. He heard the Apaches murmuring to each other and risked opening his eyes. Their attention was riveted on the slight figure of a young boy standing on the other side of Valfierno’s prostrate figure.

“And what do you think you’re doing?” the leader demanded, appraising the boy. “Allé, gamin! Off with you before you get a boot up your ass!”

But the boy didn’t move. He just stood there observing the scene with an expression of almost innocent curiosity. One of the young Apaches stepped over Valfierno and raised his club as if to hit the boy. The boy flinched instinctively but held his ground.

The Apache with the club turned to the leader and shrugged.

“Go on,” said the leader. “Clobber the little bastard if he won’t move.”

The Apache turned back to the boy, brandishing his club once again. The boy just looked at him.

“Ah, to hell with it,” the Apache said lowering his weapon and returning to the group. “There’s no fun in this. It’s too easy. You clobber him if you want to.”

Merde,” the leader said, “we’ve done enough for one night anyway. We’ve given this Dandy a lesson he’ll not soon forget.” The others agreed and, with a few parting kicks for good measure, the Apaches melted away into the shadows.

Valfierno looked up at the boy through swollen eyelids. “What’s your name?” he asked.

The boy hesitated for a moment before he replied.


“Well, thank you, Émile. I was beginning to get the distinct impression that they didn’t like me. Are you hungry, Émile?”

It was weeks later, after the boy had been cleaned up and moved into the attic bedroom of the house Valfierno rented on rue de Edouard VII that Valfierno casually asked him why he hadn’t run away that night.

Émile gave Valfierno a puzzled look. Hadn’t it been obvious?

“You were lying in my spot.”
A writer must be careful when it comes to “flashbacks” (a Hollywood wit once dismissed them as “a thing of the past”) but I thought it was a dramatic enough scene to deepen the back-story of the relationship between teacher and student. Plus, the motivation behind the assault and the circumstances that led to Émile becoming a street urchin in the first place dovetails nicely into the plot later on…
Learn more about the book and author at Carson Morton's website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue